If you don’t recognize Christmas as the season for melancholy, then you’re not paying attention. There are two places where we’re expected to be of good cheer: ads, which promise to make our days merry and bright (for a fee); and Facebook, which, let’s face it, is created by algorithms. The songs, the movies, and the TV specials are written by real, live, heartbroken humans.
Here are 12 examples:
- “Charlie Brown Christmas”—Not just the tree but the rejection.
- Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in “Meet Me in St. Louis”—The big picture window, Judy singing, Tootie weeping, then the destruction of the snow family.
- Speaking of snowmen, “Frosty, the Snowman”—Melts.
- “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”—Worse than the reindeer games, there’s parental rejection and a baffling Santa.
- “It’s a Wonderful Life”—Driven by a suicide attempt.
- “A Christmas Story”—“Oh, my god! I shot my eye out!”
- “The West Wing,” “In Excelsis Deo”—Featuring homeless veterans and others who die on Christmas Eve.
- “The West Wing,” “Noel”—Everyone’s favorite holiday diagnosis, PTSD. Courtesy of exquisite cello-playing by Yo-Yo Ma.
- “Blue Christmas”—Courtesy of Elvis.
- “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”—Minor key and words to match.
- “White Christmas”—“Just like the ones I used to know.” He’s stuck in “Beverly Hills, L.A.”
- and of course, “A Christmas Carol”—I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
As I make my melancholy list and check it twice, I realize I could easily double it. Because Christmas is the perfect season for sadness. It’s the one day of the year you actually have an excuse. Just tell the stranger who suspiciously eyes you sniffling that you can’t make it home for Christmas, and they’ll put an arm around your shoulder. Or say you miss your special somebody at the holidays, and you’ll get a sympathetic smile. If you are being visited by ghosts, I’d keep that quiet, but if the haunting has moved you to tears over the plight of your co-worker, whom you previously ignored at best and despised at worst, by all means, weep openly. Then buy them the biggest goose in all of London (or your fair city).
Maybe it hits you in church on Christmas Eve. You don’t have time to be there, but there you are, as the soloists’s attempts at glory and the pastor’s attempts at depth blow past you. Until you all light the candles and sing “Silent Night,” and somehow that third verse sneaks up on you, the word “redeeming.” Then you’re a puddle and you don’t know why. But somehow, as the service ends and you walk out into the dark, there are things you know.
You know singing carols around a tree is good for the soul. You know you’ll get to spend next Christmas in St. Louis. You know Frosty will be back again someday. You know that together you will defeat the Abominable Snowman. You know Clarence will get his wings. You know you will never receive a better Christmas present. You know Mrs. Landingham is coming to Arlington Cemetery. You know Leo is the guy who jumps in the hole with you. You know Elvis will never die. You know “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” has been around since it was sung in Latin, so you have centuries of comfort in your “lonely exile here.” You know you can have a white Christmas with every Christmas card you write. And you know that although Christmas is often hard—oh, so hard—it’s not a humbug.